Matthew Tremaine’s understated identity for Empirical is a practical foundation for experimentation
Empirical isn’t your everyday distillery. According to founders Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen, alumni of two-Michelin-star restaurant Noma, their Copenhagen-based operation was established in 2017 as a “flavour company”. They’re inspired by the role flavour plays in our ability to create and transport experiences, be it the scent of smoked fish or a slice of homemade birthday cake. Their eclectic concoction of creations ranges from fizzy cans made with oolong tea and green gooseberry to hilariously-named spirits like the habanero-infused ‘Fuck Trump and his Stupid Fucking Wall’. But it doesn’t stop at alcohol, they also produce hot sauce, kombucha and miso, with plans to go even more ‘wild’ in the future.
Empirical’s visual identity aligns with the unconventional character of their products. It’s an exercise in utilitarianism, described by Head of Design Matthew Tremaine as an “evolving experiment into how little I could get away with in describing who they are, without alienating their audience or experience”. Alcohol packaging is often loud, colourful and abstract, which although there is nothing wrong with that, makes it a challenging industry to launch a new product in to. Instead, by focusing on the technical nature of the distillation process, Empirical is the antithesis to what already exists.
Tremaine came on board to help with the design soon after their first bottle was released in 2017. Its label was printed on the most basic of label makers, which despite not being overly considered, has been hugely influencing in shaping the rest of the visual language. Tremaine reveals that “as time has gone on, we have always wanted to maintain that simplicity of letting flavour be the focus. The bottle label captured this, but we always had conversations of ‘is this too minimal’ or ‘should we do something bolder’. The guys let me lead that conversation, meaning the brand remains consistent and doesn’t adhere to the normal process. We just want to be authentic”.
The identity is built on three guiding principles: simplicity, function-over-form, and utility. The typography is consistently set in the understated sans serif Neue Haas Unica, with Regular being used predominantly beside Medium for highlights and Bold for product announcements. Everything is black and white for the most part, providing a base for more explosive imagery, graphics and colour to appear on occasional products, such as a one-off ‘Tiger King’ spirit. Tremaine adds that his inspirations have ranged from “old Comme des Garçons and Jil Sander to 8vo, hardcore music flyers and the Hollywood sign”.
Through this minimal, practical and occasionally eccentric approach to design, Empirical emphasises the quality and authenticity of their products. They can’t be categorised, and as a result, with continue to bring more weird and wonderful creations into the world.